Saturday, August 6, 2011

#6: The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist

The Duel
by Heinrich von Kleist
-born in Germany, 1777
-51 Pages
-translated by Annie Janusch
-more about Kleist (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Heinrich von Kleist was born into a Prussian military family, and fought against the French at age 15. (He resigned at 21.)
- He was hospitalized for several mysterious illnesses (physical and mental) while travelling a Europe engulfed in the Napoleonic wars.
- He wrote revolutionary plays and stories, embracing realism and rejecting the ideals of dominant German humanists such as Goethe.
- As part of a suicide pact, Kleist shot dead a terminally-ill friend, then himself, in 1811.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
One of the few novellas written by the master German playwright, The Duel was considered by Thomas Mann and others to be one of the great works of German literature.

The story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman, it is a precise study of a subject that fascinated von Kleist: That people are sometimes seemingly punished for their very innocence.

My Impressions:
What is it about Kleist's writing that makes this novella feel like comfort food?  This is something I need to explore! (Luckily, my next read is another work by Kleist.)  Reading this tale of murder, honor, nobility and justice somehow made me feel like I was 3 years old again, enraptured by a fairy tale being read to me by my dad.  The language is fairly simple, and there are people fainting every time you turn around, but there is something so gripping and so satisfying by the story that I want to read it over and over again.  It's full of knights and chivalry (and also greed and trickery) and a fascinating peek at how God's perceived Will (said in a big, God-like voice of course) factored into the justice of the 14th century.

I read this too quickly to jot down notes while reading, but I did flip back through so I could write down a couple of short examples of what a solid part faith played in these character's lives.
-A solemn oath made at such an hour can contain no lies...
-Why should divine wisdom proclaim its truth at only the very moment it is invoked?
I'm very much looking forward to the next novella, another by the same author, to compare to this one.  I'm starting to wonder if there's going to be a bad one in the collection, so far I've been quite pleased.


  1. Wow, you are really "going to town" with these! How I've never heard of this one is beyond me. Your descriptions, however, really make me want to read it. I'm putting it on my list. Good luck with the rest of the project!

  2. I am really enjoying this journey through your novellas! I love the little history lessons I'm getting with each author. Thanks for providing this service to moi. ;-)

  3. Haha, Jay...I'm all full-force in the beginning, we'll see how long I hold it together! Actually, the project has been fabulous so far, so I'm hoping that it remains that way. Classic authors in small doses: win/win.

    Belle, I think the publisher has put great effort into making these little classics fun. The tone that the bios and blurbs are written in are interesting and engaging, and the stories picked have been great (so far). I think that helps me look forward to the next novella instead of making it seem like a challenge.

  4. I find it funny/fascinating that you characterized this (and Kleist) as comfort food, when I find his writing very sinister--though I do love it! Not that creepiness can't be comforting as well.

  5. Nicole, I think it's because I grew up reading (and hearing) so many fairy tales--Grimm's, Anderson's--and there is something in Kleist that is dreamy and fatalistic in that takes me back to childhood. :) I love that the same book/writer can evoke different feelings in different people though.


I'd love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment!